Posted tagged ‘newspapers’

The end of newsprint?

June 11, 2012

Today marked a significant watershed in my life. This morning, as I do most mornings, I walked to the nearby newsagent. I wanted to buy a baguette for my breakfast, and copies of the two newspapers that I read every day. I bought the baguette. But I bought no newspaper. As I stood looking at the piles of papers, I suddenly asked myself why I was bothering, as I have apps on my iPad that allow me to read both the papers in question in their precise printed form. And so I went home and read the newspapers on the iPad. And I have to admit that it is possible, just possible, that I will not buy a hard copy newspaper ever again.

Of course we already know that newspapers, particularly those that are not coming to grips with the internet age, are dying. A number of them have already folded, and others are soldiering on, but precariously. Others are trying to save themselves by offering access to their websites in return for a payment.

Until recently I didn’t think that web-based newspapers were the future of news reporting. No matter how powerful the computer or how chic the laptop, it just wasn’t how one would read the news over breakfast. So I thought that the more astute newspapers would survive and would be able to continue to print hard copy. Now, with the phenomenal growth of the iPad and other tablet computers, this may be changing. I actually now find it easier to manipulate the newspaper with my fingers than to mess around with the paper pages. And I am not altogether alone in this.

I have a subscription to an iPad-based newspaper subscription service that, for less than £1 a day, lets me download all my normal newspapers in the exact print format. How can I lose?

And yet, I wonder what the future holds for news reporting. First, will there be a viable business model that sustains a network of reporters and correspondents for a coherent news organisation, not just services that take copy from others? Will advertisers support the kind of model I am now using? Will the anarchy of the internet, and the fact that anybody can set up a news site, destroy the reliability of news reporting? Will the tabloid world change, or maybe even disappear?

An uncertain world lies ahead.

Commenting freely

January 31, 2012

In the age of the internet, the aristocracy of commentary has been deposed. You can, if you are so minded, turn to the leader writers of the old newspapers to get a perspective on what is happening at home and abroad, but you could just as easily turn to an interactive website, or the space at the bottom of opinion pieces on newspaper sites where you and I can enter comments. And boy, do we enter comments! By the truckload, actually. Some of them are totally bizarre and crazy, and a good few of them are either obscene or libellous. Well, depending on where you are browsing. But others are real contributions to the national and global conversation.

However, right now some websites are beginning to wonder whether this facility is a good idea, and whether the risks from open comments are greater than the benefits. Given the sheer volume, moderation is not usually a realistic option. So it may turn out to be the case that the anarchic but often lively forum for loud debate provided by large circulation websites will decline. Perhaps.

But actually, are not universities meant to be spaces for open discussion? So where are the websites hosted by higher education institutions that provide an opportunity for intellectual debate? As higher education itself, but also the world in which it is set, loses so many of its traditional assumptions, should there not be a space where this can be assessed and critiqued by the community? It is time for the academy to be a virtual debating chamber to which all have access.

All human life

February 20, 2010

When I was a young boy and living in Mullingar, Ireland, my mother often took me with her when she went on a shopping or other trip to Dublin. I don’t now remember exactly where this was, but for a while a large advertisement on a billboard poster could be seen as you approached Dublin, probably around Leixlip or Palmerstown. It simply read: ‘All human life is there’.

As some readers may know, this poster will have been advertising the Sunday newspaper, the News of the World. It was (and is) a British paper focusing on the somewhat seedier and sillier aspects of life, and it has a populist tone. But actually, I had never seen a copy of this paper, and so for me this billboard advertisement was wholly mysterious. What did ‘news of the world’ mean, and what on earth was being suggested in relation to human life?

As it happens a few years ago the late Auberon Waugh, journalist and commentator, mused in an article what it must be like to get one’s news solely from the News of the World. You would have access to prurient stories about royalty and other celebrities, lots and lots of sport, and, er, that’s it. Political news only ever make it if truly seismic,  So if that’s the world you inhabit, you will not have your blood pressure raised by accounts of distant wars or global or national injustices. Instead you could turn your attention to the football results and to photos of topless women. In a recent issue of the News of the World, these were the top stories:

TERRY: Toni falls for JT whopper on fishing hols
VERNON: Tess mauls horny hubby over txts
CHERYL: Star bans husband Ashley from Brits
JACKSON: Hear the tape that could clear doc
CASH: Trade in your old mobiles for money

So if this is the ‘news’ as revealed to you, your world might be very strange, but perhaps rather comforting.

Most of us are where we are, and our direct experiences are formed in a limited geographical area. And so we rely on good news coverage to keep us in touch with the wider world, and where necessary and appropriate to engage with it. But once we restrict ourselves to the coverage and the values of the tabloid media, the great debates about politics, the arts and other subjects will pass us by, and will form no part of our world. But newspapers are rarely politically neutral, and so their readers may be fed a drip-drip of hints and insinuations that are ultimately designed to express a political view at the ballot box, which their readers are reluctant to argue with because, frankly, they have no idea what it’s about.

To thrive as a society, we need a news-savvy population. We need newspapers that really do have a concept of  ‘all human life’ and that are prepared to defend it. We need a population that doesn’t turn to newspapers to be titillated but to be informed and to learn. The Irish newspapers and broadcast media have on the whole been responsible about their role, but the News of the World and other British tabloids are readily available here, and their approach has been more questionable. And while people must be allowed to make their choices, I would hope that most will in the end want to be better informed rather than more excitingly titillated. I really do hope that.

All the news that’s fit to print

October 5, 2008

The quality and stability of democracy in any society depends fairly crucially on the media, and on newspapers in particular. The willingness and ability of journalists to identify and pursue a significant story, and to present a trenchant but balanced view when they have got to the bottom of it, is as important as, and may be a prerequisite to, the willingness of politicians to defend rights and freedoms.

On the whole, in Ireland we have been lucky with our newspapers. They have tended to take a serious view of the big political and social issues and provide us with coverage that supports our democratic credentials. But then again, that comment betrays my age a little. I grew up when there were three Irish daily papers – the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Press. It was also possible to get many of the UK newspapers, particularly if you were in Dublin or one of the larger towns; but their circulation overall was very small.

That picture has long changed, with the arrival of Irish editions of UK newspapers (particularly the tabloids), the enormous diversification of the broadcast media and the impact of the internet, where you can now choose to have as your daily newspaper something from just about anywhere in the world.  The ‘old’ Irish papers (minus the Press, which disappeared some time ago) are still in a strong position, but not a dominant one. This slight erosion has also made it more difficult to say for sure that our news coverage gets it about right; there are now many column inches on sale in newsagents focusing on celebrity gossip and adopting a much more partisan political approach. Conversely, I also sometimes wonder whether some of the media over-do the desire to bring people ‘to account’, pursuing stories largely geared towards finding someone to ‘blame’ for something – and this ‘blame culture’ may yet serve to stifle imaginative policies and innovation (which is always risky anyway for politicians and others in the limelight).

New technology alone will guarantee that we cannot return to the apparent comforts and certainties of how the media operated decades ago. But as citizens we need to remind ourselves that the dissemination and analysis of news is vital, and that it is (at least in part) a serious business. In the end the media, whatever platform they may use, will serve us what we appear to want. The quality of our news analysis is ultimately the responsibility of all of us.


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